Thursday, October 14, 2010

Wasting Time at Business South West

Attending a business exhibition, such as Business South West near Exeter, can represent a significant investment of money and time. Is it worth it?

The exhibition, like others of its ilk, is free to get into. But unless you're very local it'll swallow a day from your calendar and a dash of cash on travel, coffee and lunch.

It's easy for the busy, or faint-hearted, not to bother. There's almost always going to be something more important to do back at the office. And even the daily routine can sound more attractive than wandering the aisles and dodging the eye of enthusiastic sales staff.

"So why am I here?" is probably the most common question visitors ask themselves shortly after arriving. Concentrating hard on avoiding the clutches of water cooler vendors and business transformation consultants, it's easy to forget the motivation behind the visit to Exeter's giant cowshed, at this agricultural showground turned events venue.

Despite its existential overtones, the answer to that "why" question should have been framed before turning up. Getting the most from events like Business South West requires a defined objective, and leaving space for a little serendipity.

That objective might be as vague as "seeing what's there." Or a much more tightly focused "I want to meet a buyer from the Met Office." Having a mission, however woolly, gives shape to the exhibition experience and permits compliance with today's essential management tool: measurability.

Whatever the purpose behind turning up, it's essential to create gaps for the unexpected. This can be particularly challenging for the males who typically dominate the turnout at business events, but who often lack the capacity to 'browse.' Ambling through the stands and allowing oneself to be drawn into unexpected conversations can lead to pleasant surprises and even commercial opportunites.

Those frequently-avoided purveyors of water coolers might seem superfluous, but their conversation might release a flood, or even a mere trickle, of new ideas. They might not relate to water at all, but simply engaging with someone new can widen your perspective. And given that it's polite to exchange information, they may be interested in something you have to offer.

On the other hand, the conversation may lead nowhere. That's the risk you take. It's possible that the entire day spent at Business South West, or an event like it, produces no tangible commercial benefit. But risk is part of business, isn't it?